The owner of a gay club in Vancouver says his concern about safety, not sex, prompted him to fund an investigation into a competing gay event hosted Oct 30 by Vancouver’s Art and Leisure Society (VAL).
“We received calls and were aware of grave concerns from our artists and members of the queer community,” Odyssey owner-operator Bijan Ahmadian tells Daily Xtra. “I called the liquor inspector in charge of that area and let him know. But in my experience in Vancouver it’s difficult to get a taxi or the police then because a lot of events that are happening.”
Ahmadian alleges his private investigators found safety concerns in breach of city bylaws and provincial liquor regulations, including drug use, overcrowding and “out of control mixing of alcohol.”
In addition to its safety allegations, the investigation emphasizes sexual activity at VAL’s event.
Ahmadian gave both the report and accompanying video footage to The Province, which ran a story Nov 23, 2015. The Province ran a 59-second video clip allegedly showing a public sex act with a frontpage story entitled, “Drug Use, Sex, Over-serving, Overcrowding: Did Party Go Too Far.”
Troy questions why Ahmadian would shoot, and especially release, such a video taken of queer people in a queer space.
“We try to create spaces for sexual and creative expression and we specifically say ‘no photography’ — yet they took photographs and video of our guests,” Troy says. “Why would he consent for the videos to released? These photos or videos have no function other than to be salacious and attack community members.”
Ahmadian says the identities of the people have been obscured in the video shot by the investigators he funded.
“I think sex-positive environment is an essential part of our community, but at the same time we don’t have control over how the media reports there,” he says. “We don’t have any control how they report on them. We gave [The Province] the full report and you know how journalists work: they have independence on what they write.”
It’s just the latest in a series of complaints and inspections that have challenged VAL’s artistic merit and sex-positive, creative expression since it started hosting events in September 2014.
“This is an attack (and an infringement of privacy) on the morality of gay men, queer spaces and queer events,” VAL executive director Matt Troy wrote in a guest column for Daily Xtra Nov 24, 2015.
Troy describes the investigation as “an attack on alternative, artist-run event spaces and their right to program and participate in culture.”
“The report may try to characterize our event in simplistic, sensational terms, while avoiding any mention of our queer ideals and politic. But our morality, and our sexual and artistic expression, is under scrutiny,” he writes.
Ahmadian tells Daily Xtra he shared his report with The Province because he felt it was critical to raise public awareness about safety. “If it comes from another prominent gay bar it can raise the awareness around public safety issues,” he says.
“When you walk into a building, you don’t think twice about it as safe,” he says. “We haven’t had people trapped in a concert or fire event in recent issue because everyone follows really strict laws around safety.”
Complaints about the sex-positive nature of VAL’s queer events triggered several City of Vancouver inspections in early 2015. Daily Xtra asked city officials about the inspections in March 2015. Officials at the time raised some concerns about allegations of over-capacity parties, but said “city and partner agencies will continue working with VALS to help them comply with regulations for any future events they organize.”
Troy says city officials have since been supportive, and credits Vancouver’s Indoor Arts & Culture pilot program, which supports groups like VAL holding cultural events and fostering artists and creative expression in unconventional spaces, such as warehouses.
A spokesperson for BC’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch tells Daily Xtra the branch is aware of the concerns raised regarding VAL’s events and is looking into the matter.
“The LCLB — along with public safety and City of Vancouver officials — have worked with the Vancouver Art and Leisure Society in the past to ensure that their applications met the necessary criteria from both a health and safety and local zoning perspective,” the spokesperson writes in an emailed statement.
Troy says VAL is investigating Ahmadian’s safety concerns as well. “I think anybody could hire a private investigator at any establishment and entrap the staff possibly into making a wrong drink sale,” he says. “All my servers have Serving it Right and we’re investigating that matter.”